Book Reviews

Book by Stephen Brookfield
Review by Sandra E. Seay 
Department of Higher, Adult, and Counselor Education 
East Carolina University 
Greenville, NC


Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults is an engaging explanation by Stephen Brookfield of activities used to spur conversation and reflection among students.  Brookfield writes that the purpose of adult learning instruction is to foster self-confidence and develop critical thinking skills which results in adults deciding what they need to learn and how they will obtain the learning. However, impediments to this kind of learning exist in the adult learning classroom. The impediments are the willful use of power by students. For example, students described as being loquaciously fittest by Brookfield who use their oral skills to monopolize class discussion are exercising obstructionist power (p. 64). Brookfield uses physical movement, games, and other activities to minimize power usage.  The games and other activities raise equal amount of discomfort among students. As the discomfort level rises, the purposeful use of power by one or more students lessens. The activities vary from the use of collages as a tool for understanding the concept of power to the process of constructing a wiki as a means of helping students understand how false information can become a part of an information source (pp. 112-113). 

The activities are not appropriate for most advising sessions because they require physically present students working in groups who do not have physical impairments that prevent them from seeing or performing some of the activities. Most advising sessions are one-on-one and accessible to physically impaired students and distance education students. Brookfield uses activities as a means of encouraging acceptance of others. Yet use of these activities does not always yield the expected change in students’ beliefs or thoughts.  Brookfield’s explanation is that student resistance to change is an example of dominant ideology at work (pp. 150-152). A different explanation of why the activities as stand-alone events do not cause an immediate change in students’ beliefs can be found in the writings of Kurt Lewin and his devotees (Schein, 1996). As explained by Schein, replacing old beliefs with new beliefs requires more than making an individual aware of inaccurate information that supports the old beliefs. Instead, acceptance of new beliefs is the end result of a process that involves discomfort with old beliefs, a difficult transition period, and a final period in which new beliefs replace the old beliefs. 

The bridge between this book and advisors is the author’s commitment to student empowerment and the strategies he takes to create a comfortable learning environment.  Brookfield and advisors emphasize students making choices based upon careful thought and valid information.  Both work to eliminate environmental factors that impede learning in classes or in advising sessions. For example, Brookfield’s purposeful use of language that is understandable in explaining power concepts is a reminder to advisors that plain speech stripped of educational jargon and polysyllable words allows meaningful conversation between an advisor and an advisee.  Advisors can also relate to Brookfield’s use of listening skills to discern assumptions embedded in students’ speech that might be blocking them from, to use an advising example, using academic support services (pp. 174-175). This book is as Brookfield suggested a very appropriate workbook to accompany his book, The Power of Critical Theory; however, it does not contain new insights that would be helpful to advisors. 

Reference: Schein, E. H. (1996). Kurt Lewin’s change theory in the field and in the classroom: Notes toward a model of managed learning. Systems Practice, 9(1), 27-47.


Powerful Techniques for Teaching Adults. (2013). Book by Stephen Brookfield. Review by Sandra E. Seay. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 271pp., $40.00. ISBN # 978-1-1180-1700-5
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